The wind was howling from the South East, low clouds scudding over the top of the hills, white horses playing out to sea as I approached one of the Cape Peninsula’s most iconic landmarks- Slangkop Lighthouse.
Its hard not to be impressed by this symbol of man’s attempts to tame Cape Point. There are few better experiences of driving around the area than that of coming over the top of Slangkop and having the lighthouse below you.
The Lighthouse is also popular with tourists, despite not being so well sign posted. Despite the blustery conditions there were a German and an American couple looking around the site whilst I was there.
I had gone with the intention of just doing a story about the history of the landmark, and wanted some photos for the article, however, I have to say I am less than impressed with the condition that the lighthouse is currently in.
Standing around 30m tall, Slangkop Lighthouse was erected in 1919 to aid navigation in the area. Along with Roman Rock and Cape Point lighthouses, the tower helps shipping identify the Cape Peninsula in inclement weather and at night. Many ships have flounder on rocks and on beaches in the area due to captains ‘rounding’ the Cape Of Good Hope several kilometers too early.
Having started life with a small paraffin lamp the lighthouse now houses a 1.5kw lamp, producing around 5,000,000 candlepower and was fully automated in 1979. In clear weather the light can be seen up to 33 nautical miles out to sea.
Most people associate lighthouses with the light itself, and assume that their only purpose is to warn ships about dangerous to navigation that they can see during the day. However, this is only one of the ways in which a lighthouse aids the navigation of shipping. In this day of GPS and radio beacons it is easy to lose sight of older forms of navigation: many vessels, large and small have come to grief by not keeping a back up on a chart.
All lighthouses in a coastal area are unique in some way, both during the day, and in the dark. There are almanacs available that list these differences, either in physical shape, height, paint scheme etc, or in light colour, frequency and pattern of flashes. In this way, if a vessel arrives at a coastline, with less of an idea where they are than they would like, sighting a lighthouse can give them a very clear picture of where they are very quickly. Lighthouses also make very good ‘fixing’ points when using landmarks to navigate by.
So, not only is Slangkop Lighthouse an important tourist landmark, it is still an essential component of inshore navigation in the area. This made it doubly sad that such a hardworking symbol of the Cape Peninsula is looking so tardy.
The beautiful white paintwork is copiously stained with orange rust, and starting to show signs of peeling in places. If the maintenance work is not carried out during the summer then it seems that there is little chance it will happen in the winter storm season. There can be few environments in the world that are as harsh as that that the Lighthouse is stood, which makes it even more important that a good maintenance program is adhered to. There is a shop and it seems that tourists are paying to go to the top for some of the most unique views in the Cape Point area. Surely this goes some way to covering the costs. Shipping needs the lighthouse to remain standing and tourism in the area needs this icon to be maintained as well as possible. The Lighthouse isn’t falling down or anything drastic like that, but because it is in the environment it is then not keeping up with simple maintenance will quickly mount up the problems.
I will be contacting those responsible for the upkeep to get some feedback and I will post their response as soon as I get it.